You don’t get blockbuster, earth-shattering, bombshell news in the comic book business very often. No, the industry saves that kind of excitement for the interior pages of their various superhero publications. The clever people at DC Comics have managed that kind of news twice in the last six months. They first did it with the re-launch of their entire line of comic book titles, all beginning with brand new first issues this past September, making for mainstream press headlines worldwide.
And they did it again today. With Watchmen.
The twelve-issue Watchmen series, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons, first published monthly by DC Comics in 1986, is widely held as the greatest artistic output the comic book genre has ever produced. Time Magazine lauded it as one of the greatest works of fiction in the twentieth century and it won the Hugo Award for heavens sake, the first comic book to do so. Watchmen, over twenty-five years later, remains an immensely important work – not just in comics – but in all forms of creative human expression. It has been left to stand proudly on its own merits, untouched all these years, despite existing in a soap opera, reboot, re-tell, re-launch industry.
Over the years, DC Comics and Alan Moore had a very terrible and very public falling out over the rights to Watchmen, currently owned by the publishing company. I won’t get into the retelling of what Watchmen is about, the various ownership disputes or it’s myriad achievements in storytelling, visual art and the marriage of the two forms. I’ll point you to a Wikipedia entry, which ably discusses everything that surrounds the project, good and bad.
Today, DC Comics announced it was going to publish eight different prequels to the original series by a host of all-star talent. Eight! The sacred cow, Watchmen, is sacred no more.
Minutemen (6-issues) by: Darwyn Cooke
Ozymandias (6-issues) by: Len Wein and Jae Lee
Dr. Manhattan (4-issues) by: J. Michael Straczynski and Adam Hughes
Rorschach (4-issues) by: Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo
Silk Spectre (4-issues) by: Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner
Curse of the Crimson Corsair (2-page ongoing back-up in every comic) by: Len Wein and John Higgins
Comedian (6-issues) by: Brian Azzarello and J.G. Jones
Nite Owl (4-issues) by: J. Michael Straczynski and Andy and Joe Kubert
This news is going to polarize people, specifically lovers and admirers of the original series, many of whom feel it should remain singular, set aside and untouchable, a work of art to be left alone. Today, there seems to be much justification for the creation of the prequels by both the creative people and the business people assigned to them. Some seem to think that efforts should go towards creating new comics that, like Watchmen, redefine the comic book forum. I’d submit that this kind of artistic evolution is already occurring in books like Sandman, Y The Last Man, Love and Rockets, The Walking Dead and The Boys. For the most part, the industry is not missing any opportunities in that endeavour. Any vacuum, perceived or otherwise, eventually gets filled.
Make no mistake: the news today is a simple money decision. DC Comics, with the weight of parent company Warner Brothers behind them, will sell a ton of comics and multimedia product based on the Watchmen oeuvre over the coming years. But there should be no guilt in that decision to publish. By law, DC Comics has the right to publish stories based on the world of Watchmen, its characters and storylines.
More importantly, however, the responsibility of good comic book storytelling will fall on the various writers and artists involved in the projects. We’ll always have the Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons original to read, study, enjoy and hold high. That artistic achievement is not going anywhere. Indeed, it could grow because of today’s news.
What remains to be seen, however, is whether this new crop of tales, left to time and their own devices, will be as important, as revered or as entertaining as what has come before them. There is responsibility here, but it’s not a responsibility beholden to the source material. These new stories should not be compared to just the original Watchmen, but instead be measured against representatives of all graphic literature, past and present. That’s the comparison the original Moore and Gibbons Watchmen had when it was first published. These new stories should be judged by the same criteria.
Truthfully, I’m curious to discover how these stories will fare. Like any new endeavour, there is an opportunity for greatness here. I know that we at Biff Bam Pop! will be around to render verdict – as will you.
Hopefully, with the high stature of the various creators involved in these prequels, that verdict will come up all smiley faces.